I went to Meyring Law Firm to update my Will. A numbers of years had passed and many changes have happened in my life since I first prepared my Will. Everything I requested was accomplished and I met a great group of people in the process. On the day of my signing, Mr. Meyring made everything so convenient by having witnesses, Notary, and in –house payments. If you are looking for a great and ...

Where Family Fights Start

This piece is written in my continuing efforts as a trusts, estates and probate attorney, to inform about the long-term and postmortem effects of financial decisions made in the present. Even when you have your estate plan with a will or a trust and financial and medical incapacity documents in place, the way in which you own property and designate beneficiaries on accounts can "trump" what the will or trust says. The result is the distribution of property to individuals that are not mentioned in the will or trust. The saddest cases are where life insurance money will distribute to a divorced former spouse instead of a surviving child even when the will said all money and property should be given to the child.

Most people don't know how joint ownership of property and beneficiary designations will affect their property at death. The form or type of joint ownership deed affects the way your property is transferred. Typically, property held as "joint tenants with right of survivorship" means if one joint owner passes away, the surviving joint owner becomes the sole owner of the property. The other form of a joint ownership deed is called "tenancy-in-common." Under this type of ownership, if one joint owner passes away, then that ownership interest will be distributed through the decedent's estate where a will or the rules of intestacy will control who receives the decedent's half interest in the property. Ultimately, the difference is a joint survivorship deed will pass automatically to the surviving owner regardless of the decedent's will, but the joint tenancy-in-common deed will respect what the will says.

When I asked closing attorneys about whether they create only one type of joint deed instead of the other, I found that in most cases, closing attorneys are only marginally aware of the difference and the difference is not discussed with the property buyers. That makes sense because in a real estate closing, the joint deed type is inconsequential to the end result of joint ownership of real estate. Where it matters most is if one of those two owners should pass away as noted above.

When people use a trust to establish their estate plan, often they are looking for benefits of privacy of their estate and elimination of the need for probate. If a person with a trust and with real estate passes away and that real estate remains in the name of the deceased, then the end result is the loss of estate privacy and the need for probate. Compounded with that is the additional time, concern and expense of probate and the lack of success of the original trust-based estate plan.

Parents and seniors often put their child or a trusted friend onto their checking or cash accounts as an authorized signer in order to help facilitate daily finances in one's later years. What is not always fully understood is that at the time the parent or senior passes away, then the authorized signer actually becomes the owner of that account – again regardless of what the will says. Controversies – or family fights – can arise from this situation that could've easily been avoided.

In the end, you will not be around to handle your probate. Your property will be distributed according to the instructions you leave behind. The way in which your property is titled and the choices made on account beneficiary designations are part of those instructions which will partly determine how your estate will be distributed. Exactly how the estate plan, the titling, and the beneficiary designations all interact is the standard legal analysis of the estate planning attorney. There is no way to test an estate plan to know if it will work properly. Instead, a legal review by a probate experienced estate planning attorney will give you a proper evaluation and the best opportunity to leave behind a conflict-free legacy.

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